The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Who here knows what it’s like to not have your expectations met? You expect “this,” and what you get in reality doesn’t measure up. We’ve all been there before, right? Probably many times over. This is how we expect things to be, and then this is how things wind up actually being. What a letdown. “This wasn’t in the brochure!” Turn your attention to the Gospel lesson. You can hear John’s spoiled expectations in his question to Jesus. “Are you the One to come, or should we be looking for another?” “Are you really the guy, Jesus? Are you really the one we’ve been hearing so much about, because so far this is not what was promised in the brochure. The Messiah is supposed to look like this and sound like this. The Messiah is supposed to be bringing the fire! You, Jesus, are not exactly measuring up. If you’re really not the guy, just say it so I can stop wasting my time here.”
Now, before I go any further, I know that there is always going to be someone who disagrees with this. Some folks refuse to accept such a blemish on John’s résumé. They try to preserve John’s honor and faith by saying that he never had a doubt about Jesus as the Messiah, but his disciples did, which is why he sent them to Jesus to get the proof first-hand; so they could hear it directly “from the horse’s mouth.” While I don’t doubt that John’s disciples were struggling with doubt, it is foolish and wrong to think that John was absolutely steadfast and unwavering in his faith, above any notions of doubt. Guys: John was human. John wore sinful flesh, no different than any of us, which means that just like us, he could struggle in his faith when the going got tough; when his expectations were not being met. And that’s exactly what was going on here. In this question about whether or not Jesus is the One, you hear John struggling in his faith; a struggle that arose out of his expectations and understandings of what the Messiah was supposed to look like, sound like, and act like.
Think about it. You already know John the Baptist’s prophetic proclamation. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Think about what you heard from him just last week. “Repent, you brood of vipers, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, for the coming One, who is at hand is the One who will baptize you with fire. This is the One who will separate the wheat from the chaff with His Judgment Day winnowing fork. This is the One who will bring release and freedom and prosperity to those languishing in bondage and despair.” John believed every word of it… until it didn’t seem to be happening… at least not how he expected.
Do not be mistaken: John understood the fact that Almighty God would come to earth in the flesh and person of the Messiah. He understood how this first adventing of the Messiah would lead into the victorious adventing in judgment. “Almighty God has taken on flesh, and here He is. Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This very same God is bringing His winnowing fork and is going to cast all unbelievers into eternal fire! Repent!” John understood all this perfectly. He understood this to be fulfilled in the person of Jesus. What he didn’t understand, though, is that between these two Advent bookends was a cross. John couldn’t wrap his brain around the idea of God’s plan of salvation and victory involving pain, suffering, humiliation, and even death; either his or his Lord’s… especially his Lord’s. John couldn’t understand how a humiliated Christ; a crucified Christ was actually the plan all along. Not surprisingly, the fact that John’s expectations weren’t being met the way he expected them to be met and according to his expected schedule all led him to doubt and despair. “Maybe this isn’t God in the flesh. Maybe there’s been a mistake. Maybe I got it wrong.” Something even more troubling: Jesus seems to make clear the fact that John was even offended when Jesus wasn’t meeting all of John’s expectations; i.e., doing what John expected the Messiah to do, and on John’s timeline, no less. In fact, the Greek word there is skandalidzo; i.e., “scandalized.” John was feeling scandalized because in his eyes, Jesus was making him look like a liar; a fool. All that talk about fire and wrath and power and might… and here’s John, sitting in a prison cell. “Blessed is the one who is not offended/scandalized by Me.”
How about you? Are you any different? Are you really any better? I know that everyone here confesses the Truth of their baptism into Christ. We know and understand what it means. Baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His death and resurrection, which means that His victory over sin, death, and the devil is our victory over sin, death, and the devil. And yet... it doesn’t exactly seem that way right now, does it? We look around, and we don’t exactly see “victory.” You look around at this fallen and sinful world and it’s easy to fall prey to failed expectations. It’s easy to feel scandalized, duped, and used. Life hits a rough patch, and the very first thing we often do is question God and His means of grace. “What gives?! I’ve been baptized. I go to church. I pray regularly. I read my Bible all the time, and this is what I get in return? I do all this, and yet I’m being made to suffer. I languish while the foul unbeliever gets ahead.” And this is where the devil creeps in and does some of his best work. “Did God really say…? Maybe you’ve got it wrong. Maybe you’ve made a mistake. Maybe God isn’t really almighty. Maybe there are some things that God can’t handle or overcome. Maybe God doesn’t know what’s happening in my life. Maybe He doesn’t care. Maybe this God is an angry God, and He’s punishing me. Maybe I need to try and win Him over and get the karma back in my favor.”
There are also those who try to “save” Jesus from such “scandal,” as if He needs us to defend His honor. “Not my Jesus! My Jesus would never allow bad things to happen to me. My Jesus would never do this, that, or the other thing.” You’re right! Your Jesus wouldn’t, but the Jesus of Holy Scripture does. That’s the problem. You have created God in your own image and likeness; a Jesus of your own expectations. “Yeah… but how could a loving and merciful God allow me to suffer and struggle in such a way?” What’s the matter? You sound surprised that being a faithful Christian in this fallen and sinful world includes bearing crosses. “This wasn’t in the brochure!” Yes, it was. It’s even in the red letters! “Take up your cross and follow Me.”
My friends: This is where Christ’s life-giving Word of the Gospel breaks in and proclaims to us the very thing He proclaimed to John’s disciples: “Go and tell what you’ve seen and heard. The blind are receiving their sight. The lame are walking. The lepers are being cleansed and the deaf are hearing. The dead are being raised up to new life and the poor are receiving the gift of the Gospel; the gift of life eternal.” Consider the fact that Jesus had been very active in healing the sick and raising the dead; e.g., healing the Centurion’s servant, raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, raising the widow’s only son from the dead. These two messengers would have borne first-hand witness to many of Christ’s miracles. **These are the same miracles foretold of the Messiah throughout the OT; i.e., blind receiving sight, lame walking, lepers cleansed, deaf hearing, etc. This is precisely why Jesus sends these messengers back to John by saying, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard….” Jesus is directing John to the Word/Promise of God that is being fulfilled in/through Him! All these miracles testify/bear witness to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah.
Your Lord is still doing the same exact thing for all of us today. In the stead and by His command you hear His called and ordained messengers proclaim, not their own personal opinions, but His Word. You hear Him. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Be baptized for the forgiveness of all your sin. Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My body. This is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin. As often as you do this, remember what I have said.” Folks: This is what “Church” is all about—coming into the presence of the Almighty Christ and receiving—from Him—His life-giving Word and Sacraments! These means of grace; these not only testify/bear witness to the fact that Jesus is our victorious Immanuel Lord, but they ARE Jesus, your very present victorious Immanuel Lord. I know this may not meet certain expectations, but what does your Lord say about all this?
Here is where our Lord comes to dwell with us, in our very midst. Wars, rumors of wars, corruption, plagues, pandemics, dysfunction… none of this is able to keep Him from us. Yes, all these wretched and terrifying things still happen to “good Christians,” and it often doesn’t match our expectations of how life as a Christian is supposed to be. But what has our Lord already said? He is with us ALWAYS. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against Him coming to us with His gifts of grace and salvation. Here is our Lord brings heaven to meet earth, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Folks: This is not a business or a country club or an entertainment venue. “But what about the children?!” You are not customers, and Jesus and His means of grace are not products to be peddled. You are sinners in need of a Savior, and here He is, doing exactly that, far exceeding anything a sinner who deserves only present and eternal punishment can ever expect or even imagine. Here is your Savior, right where He promises to be, doing exactly what He has promised to do, from the Garden of Eden to now and to the end of the age. Rejoice!
In fact… this is why this particular Sunday still bears the Latin title—Gaudete—rejoice! This is why we light the pink candle on our Advent wreath today—to set this day apart as a reminder that God has kept His Word and is still keeping His Word, even though His ways may not match our expectations. In the midst of this crazy, sinful, and dark world we live in (and languish in), we are reminded of the eternal joy and light and peace that is already ours in Jesus Christ, who came to us as a babe in a manger, suffered and paid for all our sins on His cross; who still comes to us today in His life-giving Word and Body and Blood, and who will come again in all His glory to take us home—body and soul complete on the day of the resurrection—to live with Him in paradise forever. Expect nothing less, for He Himself has promised that it is so.
My fellow redeemed: This Christ-centered Gospel promise in the flesh and in our very presence is more than enough reason to rejoice with all that we have and with all that we are, whether we find ourselves in good times or bad times, richer, poorer, in sickness or in health… always. This, my friends, is our Lord and Savior not only meeting, but far exceeding any expectation we could ever have regarding true life and peace in Him.
May this cruciform, baptismal peace, which does surpass all human understanding and expectation, be and remain with you always, and may you, too, now go and tell all that your Lord has done and continues to do for you in Christ.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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